Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Weeping Susannah by Alona Kimhi

Weeping Susannah by Alona Kimhi
First published in Hebrew as Susannah Ha-Bochiya in Israel in 1998. English language translation published by The Harvill Press in August 2001.

One of my WorldReads from Israel

How I got this book:
Bought at a charity shop

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A highly original, hilariously funny and moving tale of obsession and human frailty. People don't ask Susannah Rabin whether she's related to the great Israeli leader anymore, in fact mostly people don't ask Susannah anything. She and her mother have cloistered themselves, so that Susannah won't have to be exposed to strangers, be disgusted by them, so that she can function. Just. Their tiny world is invaded when Susannah's glamorous, enigmatic cousin, Naor, arrives from New York. Naor refuses to accept that Susannah is mentally ill, and slowly wins her affection. But their friendship makes Susannah's mother anxious. What is he really doing in Israel? In the end it is this fallible, mixed up young man who will help Susannah discover the way to escape herself and be free. Weeping Susannah is a stunning debut novel about a woman's quest for freedom, set against the vivid melting pot of modern Israel, a nation in search of its own identity.

I bought my copy of Weeping Susannah at the OXFAM bookshop when we were in Petergate, York, attracted by the premise of a contemporary Israeli novel. I love discovering different cultures through my reading. Set in Tel Aviv, Weeping Susannah is written in the first person and takes us through several months in the life of a thirty-three year old woman. Susannah lives basically as a child, cared for by her aging mother, as her chronic depression leaves her unable to cope with every day life. She has a horror of bodily functions including simply eating so cannot eat in front of anyone, and has never had a job or adult friends other than those of her mother. When an American second cousin unexpectedly arrives and expects to stay in Susannah's home, she initially shuts herself away in her room, but gradually begins to discover that she can be stronger and more social than she believes.

Weeping Susannah is a thought-provoking novel that transcends its storyline to become a fascinating view into depression and mental illness. Susannah is not a sympathetic character. In many ways, she behaves like a child even expecting her mother to pick up her underwear from the bathroom floor after her shower. The unnaturally close relationship between mother and daughter, while allowing Susannah to function, also smothers her rare chances at independence and ultimately leads to disaster when Susannah decides that she could leave. The small central cast of five are brilliantly portrayed and none are exactly sane! Friend Nehema is wonderful and I liked reading her scenes very much.

In criticism, perhaps Weeping Susannah is a little longer than it needs to be and the image of cousin Neo on the front cover was obviously chosen by someone who hadn't read the book - he is supposed to look like the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley - but otherwise this is a good read and a great insight into the culture and blend of nationalities that make up modern day-to-day life in Israel.

Etsy Find!
by Eleanor Kerr Patton in
Edinburgh, Scotland

Click pic to visit Etsy Shop

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Alona Kimhi / Contemporary fiction / Books from Israel

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